Skipping Rope is a Cheap and Effective Workout

From a reader: I've recently taken to jumping rope after finding my sister's old set. I'm not sure what benefit this has in store for me. What I do know is that I work out a sweat (not to mention the increase in my oxygen intake) after my eight to ten minutes session each day. I guess this is an indication that jumping rope is an aerobic activity and, therefore, will help me keep fit. As of now, I haven't gone beyond my ten-minute mark. I'm still in the adjustment phase. But I'm sure I can work my way up to 15 minutes or more. Please tell me about the benefits of jumping rope.

Liz Neporent, author of "Fitness for Dummies" lists a skipping rope as one the "ten great fitness investments" because it is a cheap and effective cardiovascular workout. She claims that it strengthens your cardiovascular system, improves your agility, burns lots of calories, and tones your thighs, calves, abdominals, back, chest, and shoulders without requiring too much space (all you need is the space that a small coffee table would take up) and expense (the cost of the rope and a good pair of aerobic or cross-training shoes).

I can personally attest to the benefits of skipping rope because I did it for about six months when I was a teenager. I had just bought the "bible" on aerobic fitness by Dr. Kenneth Cooper and I chose skipping rope and swimming as my aerobic activities.

Improves agility, coordination, and timing.
Traditionally, boxers have used skipping rope workouts to not only increase stamina but also increase coordination of their footwork. Mindy Mylrea, former World Aerobic Champion and star of the exercise video "Jump and Jab", says that if you want to improve your agility, timing, and rhythm, then a skipping rope workout is for you. Both the upper and lower body have to work together in synchronization or else you get all tangled up with the rope.

Medium impact activity.
"Many people avoid jumping rope because they view it as a high-impact activity" says Neporent in her book. "But if you do it right, it's more like a medium-impact activity on the order of a brisk walk. The secret is staying low. Your feet should barely clear the floor, and you should bend your knees just slightly." I found this to be true for me as it was not as hard on my knees and feet as jogging in place (and this was in the days before good aerobic shoes were available in the market!).

How to buy a skipping rope.
Skipping ropes are now made of high-tech materials like "tough, molded plastic or metal wire coated in acrylic" says Neporent. She adds that these materials make for ropes that can turn faster and more smoothly. When buying a rope, she says to look for features like soft foam or rubber handles, which prevent callusing and ball bearing-like swivel action between the cords and handles. When you turn the rope, you shouldn't feel any hesitation between the cord and handles.

Weighted "sports ropes" are good for developing upper body muscular endurance but they are not appropriate for doing fancy moves. Neporent says you should use a light rope if you want to work on skill and agility and jump fast. When buying a weighted sports rope, make sure the weight is in the rope and not in the handles.

Neporent says that to buy the right size rope for you stand on the center of the cord and pull the ends straight up along your sides. The handles should just reach your armpits.

Jumping techniques.
Neporent gives helpful tips on how to have good form and execution when you skip rope. Keep your arms relaxed, slightly bent, and keep your upper body movements to a minimum. Rather than turn your arms in big circles, simply let your wrists swivel slightly - it is mostly "wrist action". Keep your shoulders down and elbows in. Land softly.

Warm up and cool down.
The American Council on Exercise Personal Trainer Manual says that you can use the following activities (done for at least five minutes) as a warm up or cool down: graduated walking or walk-jogging in place and/or slow tempo rope skipping pace. Don't forget to stretch out the muscles of the lower body after the cool down.

Calories burned.
A 150-pound person (you will burn less or more depending on how much you weigh), skipping rope at 60 to 80 skips per minute will burn 143 calories in 15 minutes. This is considered a "low skipping rate" as compared to skipping at 120 skips a minute that has a similar caloric expenditure as running at six miles an hour.

How to start a skipping rope workout.
Skipping rope is a relatively intense activity so you need to start gradually. Neporent suggests starting with a few short sets - about 30 jumps - and resting by marching in place between sets. Gradually increase the number of sets and jumps per set while decreasing the time you spend marching. She says that you should eventually be able to jump 10 or more continuous minutes.

Time-efficient workout.
It is difficult to skip continuously past ten or fifteen minutes. Skipping rope is best used in an interval cross-training sort of program. An example would be three minutes of skipping and one minute of some kind of muscle toning exercise using dumbbells, body weight or exercise rubber bands. Doing ten sets of skipping plus muscle toning will give you a time-efficient workout that incorporates both cardiovascular endurance and muscular strength/endurance. You can even bring your workout with you by packing a rope and rubber bands when you travel. It can be your instant gym!

Not for people with hypertension.
According to Larry Fee, Ph.D., Sports Medicine Program Director at the University of Hawaii, skipping rope can be unsafe for people with hypertension because their arms are held in a continuous downward position. He says this can impede blood flow back to the heart and increase blood pressure. He adds that this would be especially true when the skipping rope is weighted.

Skipping rope videos.
You can find skipping rope exercise videos on the Internet by visiting www.collagevideo.com (one of the largest suppliers of exercise videos).

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